Leaving Home for WWII


LTC Jerry Teachout, Piedmont, SD

left Detroit by train and was picked up by Dad at the station in Red Oak, Iowa.  This town was on the 'main line' and about twenty miles north of Shenandoah that I called home.  I was of the opinion that the Air Corps would call me right away, after all this was the latter part of March of 1943 and they had sent me a letter telling me to get things in order, go back to Iowa ands be ready for the 'call'.  I was green as a gourd when it came to interpreting government ways.  He told me then that Mom was not well at all and she was on a downhill grade even though she was still at home and bedridden most of the time. 

     There were no such things as the miracle drugs, in fact, sulpha drugs were to come about just months later.  Mom had been diagnosed by the local doctors as having colon cancer which was a slow death in those days.  Nothing could be done  except prayer for divine intervention and that didn't work either.  It was a helpless feeling to see Mom waste away in the time I was around home, and it was no picnic for Dad. My oldest sister, Ruth, had married her sweetie but lived on a farm close by.  She was the mainstay of the family during Mom's illness.

     Dad could always use another pair of hands this time of year anyway, this was spring planting season and the machinery needed someone to make it do its job, whether it was gas or horse powered.  The oats and corn crops were put in, fences repaired, manure hauled, gardens were planted and finally the 'call' came that I was to report to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, where I was to enter the military as an Aviation Cadet.  The Army still had the requirement that all Cadets were to go through Infantry Basic Training just like any other Army inductee.  I was taken to the Wabash depot after all the family pictures were taken simply because I was the first of my immediate family to leave home for any service.  After the usual tears and goodbys of parting, this little farm boy was off on another adventure in which the future was unknown. 

     The train ride to St. Louis, Missouri was a very uneventful ride and it sure didn't tell me anything about the future. The date was the seventeenth of June, 1943, my date of report and entering the Army was determined by my swearing in date which was the eighteenth of June.  They lost no time from then on getting us in shape, both physical and mental. The Air Corps was just another Corps of the Army, like the Artillery, Chemical or Medical Corps and had nothing to do with the modern Air Force which did not become a separate service until August of 1947.

     The government furnished everything from the skin out and the pay was $32 per month, soon to be upped to $50 a month. The usual lines of GI issue were tolerated and it wasn't long before we chucked civvies for the uniform. There was no place to spend money, except for the necessities at the Post Exchange, and then only if you could find the time to go there.  Civilian clothes were a no-no, we were at war and the Army wasn't going to let you forget it. When everyone else wore the same uniform it wasn't so bad after all.  Getting used to the uniform came gradually and with it a sense of pride of being in the best Army in the world as noted by the badges and ribbons worn by our more experienced troops.  Those ornaments were earned and they didn't give them out for nothing.

     Other Cadets joined the squad and I found that they came from all walks of life, from all over the country, and we had to learn from scratch to be soldiers every second of the waking day. When we wore the class A summer uniform  it had better be starched, pressed, with all brass shined, and shoes like mirrors. Eight of us were assigned a hut which was no more than a large wooden floored tent with eight cots along the sides.  If a quarter wouldn't bounce off the blanket it wasn't tight enough and the daily inspection made by our Drill Instructor made sure it was right. There were two rows of huts straddling a street and each Drill Instructor had charge of two or three huts. I wonder if the physical and mental discipline training required to be an Aviation Cadet had not started about now?

     It took a few minutes to pick up the lingo, but the Drill Instructor became known as the DI and he taught us everything we were supposed to know about the military from soup to nuts. There was never a time that the DI wasn't as sharp and level-headed as any man could be.  He was always dressed like a soldier, walked like a soldier and was a living example to us for what was expected of us as soldiers. That man put up with mistakes that would drive anyone else up a wall.  There were mistakes in simple left face and right face  maneuvers, and about face was a nightmare to learn.  If there was one person that made soldiers out of us, it was him.  He was simply Sgt Davis to us and his influence had a great deal to do on how we turned out as future airmen.  He also wore some of those ornaments and we were to learn later he was tough on us to keep us alive when the going got rough. He had been there and done that and was returned to this duty because of it.

      As Cadets we were restricted to the Post until we knew enough to be considered soldiers.  The change came quickly, the rewards were not even thought of yet and the learning process of becoming a GI instead of a civilian was a hard row to hoe.  The second day of training outlined that aspect in a hurry.  Another cadet and I were walking to the Post Exchange which was quite a ways away from our area.  We met a tall man in his uniform and as usual said hi to him.  No salute, no nothing because we didn't know a Colonel from a PFC.  He stopped us immediately, asked us how long we had been in service and proceeded to let us know that there was rank involved in the military and we had better learn it fast!!  We did, because he was a full colonel and showed us what Eagles on his shirt collar meant.  I'm sure that from that day forward we never forgot what an officer looked like.  The third day as scheduled,  our DI taught everyone the meaning of enlisted soldiers and officer differences. It hadn't entered our heads that someday we were expected to be officers and leaders if we were to succeed so far as Aviation Cadets. The competition had begun!

     June, July and August are not the coolest months of the year at Jefferson Barracks.  It was located along the banks of the Mississippi River so the humidity and temperature was ferocious both at night and in the daytime.  If there was any excess weight on your body it didn't take long to sweat it off. At the same time we were building muscle and strength we didn't know we owned.  The Aviation Cadets were not spared from KP duty, just like any other soldier we had to take care of our own.  The pots and pans seemed to be my lot whenever the  KP duty roster was posted and they had to be as clean as new ones.  We learned that the outside bulletin board was to be read thoroughly at least twice a day and if our name or squad appeared thereon it was for compliance.  There was no such thing as "I didn't see that"--that is what the bulletin board was for.

     We had parade formation every day at four, which meant that we had but a few minutes to change from sweaty fatigues into a fresh Class A uniform, another episode of learning.  There wasn't enough time in the day to learn all that we had to know.  Maybe that is why our day started at five o'clock in the morning and didn't end until nine at night when lights out were called.

     There were days of going on twenty mile hikes with a full pack and rifle on  our backs, days spent on the rifle range or learning what poison gas was all about, physical training that made us hard as nails, in other words, we were becoming soldiers and ready for whatever they could throw at us. The shot lines in the hospital proved to be a challenge for most of us and the big boys fainted as quickly as the little boys.  Some three days were spent in that institution as a result of one of the shots, by me, I guess it took that first time because any shot after that never phased me a bit. Nevertheless, the Army was looking out for us in a different way.

     The rifle range was a snap for me due to Dad's training in the use of firearms.  I had never fired a big bore rifle before, but after a  couple of shots it felt as comfortable as a .22 rifle.  The recoil and noise of the Springfield 30/06 was the big difference in the rifle itself and the distance from the rifle to the target took some more thought. I remembered my High School days and Mr Hamilton, the geometry teacher who had talked about rifle bullet projection and how distance affected bullet travel.  I understood a lot more than my compatriots who had never before had a rifle in their hands.The Springfield led to the firing of the .45 automatic pistol and Browning Machine Gun at a later date and they presented no problems to me. In fact, a few of us won the marksmanship medal as our first ornament and we were as proud of it as though we had won the Medal Of Honor even though that medal was unknown to us.

      About this time I had begun to learn that the more a person knows, the more he realizes he doesn't know anything.  Is this not true today when the knowledge curve is greater than it was then??  That is when I began to keep my mouth shut and listen to the  ones that had something of substance to say. It made a lot of sense to me to listen more and talk less , the learning came easier.

     Army Infantry Basic Training was coming to an end. At the least, we could call ourselves soldiers knowing that the rudiments were under our belts.

        Our next stop was to be at some College Training Detachment within our training area and  we got to know it as CTD.  It should be mentioned that the Aviation Cadet training had been divided into three areas, the East, Central and West areas, and from here on it was the Central Command Area for me.  I didn't know how lucky I was to be assigned to  the  the Central Command  until much later when I heard of the weather problems that arose during flying training. A string of summer thunderstorms isn't very pretty when you find out how hard their centers can be and the Gulf Coast sure had its share.

     A whole bunch of us were further assigned to CTD at Rockhurst College in Kansas City, Missouri.  The cross state troop train ride was uneventful and we were soon quartered at the Brookside Apartment Hotel on 54th and Brookside, right in the middle of the residential section of Kansas City. There was a streetcar line that ran between the 'brook' and the quarters from whence came the name and the Air Corps had commandeered the building for our benefit. However, we were told in no uncertain terms that the dance to be held in the ballroom that night was off limits for us, to stay in our assigned rooms as ordered. 

     That was okay with us until they found that there were too many girls at the dance, they hadn't counted on the upperclassmen shipping out , and that preplanning could be wrong at times.  The dance had been going on for about a half hour and the 'new' upperclassmen opened our doors and reversed their original order.  Meeting and dancing with some of those girls the very first night  brought out a lot of stories of the local area.  It seems as though Rockhurst College was where a lot of their local men had attended but all were gone into a service.  The girls were older than high school age, a lot of them were enrolled in different subjects at Kansas City University located just a few blocks from Rockhurst.  We found out right away that Rockhurst had always been a Catholic college just for men, and they treated us like we were their missing men. 

     There were many at home  Sunday noon  meals served to the boys who were stationed at Brookside as that was the only day that we could call our own. There was a Presbyterian church close by the quarters that became very handy on several Sunday mornings.  I was invited to lunch by a young lady and her mother who were weekly attendees at the church.  The mother had suffered the loss of her husband a year or two before and had moved to Kansas City from the western part of Kansas.  The daughter and I never found anything but solid friendship from all our meetings, the only thing we had in common was the agricultural background.  There is more to the story and I will refer to our friendship later.

     Not a one of us had had a day in higher learning and we were to find out quickly there was a lot we didn't know about the things we took for granted  Our professors were Catholic Priests and they knew how to teach their subjects so that each individual student got the full benefit of their knowledge. My hat is off to them and I'll never forget their dedication and care.  They knew we were unschooled in higher education and possibly knew how much we could absorb in the short time they had wth us. If a person didn't learn from them it was a dead end trip.

     Even though the professors were of a different faith than a lot of us, religion never entered the conversations in any way shape or form, their subject caught the full attention of both student and professor.   Our subjects were arranged in the fields that we had to know to be on any kind of an airplane crew.  Basic electricity, physics, mathematics, principles of hydraulics and fluids  and even English Composition were among the subjects that comes to mind.  Everything so far, was right up my alley!  I was on the fast track but just didn't realize it yet.

     The get-up times had not changed from Basic Training.  We still were awakened at 0500 hours.  The Military had taught us that the 24 hour clock system was as foolproof  as any system found, we accepted it only after learning that 0500 hours meant 5 AM differentiated from 5 PM that equated to 1700 hours.  It was a lot easier to know AM from PM using the Military system because it never failed,an 0500 wakeup was just about like being on the farm so not much had changed.

     In all of the military training there was a time given for everything.  A formation called at 0700 meant just that with no excuses. One was supposed to be at his proper place by 0700 and ready for anything thrown his way. We no longer had a DI to lead us around but we had upperclassmen that did just as well.  We marched in formation the 5 blocks to school, led by these upperclassmen, and we sang songs that made marching a lot easier.  For those that couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, they sang anyway.  Maybe this was the beginning of the meaning of supporting the guy next to you.  Later on, we learned to depend on him just as he depended on you.

     We had a full schedule and there was little time to play.  Physical Training was still a part of the daily schedule on top of the schoolroom subjects.  Still more learning and pressure was put on us when as upperclassmen, 10 hours of actual flying a J-3 Cub was added to the schedule.  We were not to solo the Cub, but they had to find out early in the program if there was any use going further with someone that was sure to 'wash out' later.  Some did not continue the program, again I was lucky.  About this time I thought I might make it to Classification if I kept my head above water and listened to others with more experience. 

     There also seemed to be a watchdog somewhere in the bushes that made me do the right thing at the right time. Classification was bantied around like it was an every day term.  It stood for "SAN ANTONIO AVIATION CADET CENTER', or SAACC,  the next stop on our way to being an aircrewman and Classification was the main division point as to whether you were classified as a pilot trainee or another aircrew  position if you so desired. The ultimate was to reach a pilot's slot and the alternative was to remain in service and go to a regular Army corps of some kind. The competition was getting more profound and it is no wonder that only the best would win. The war was over a year and a half old and the Allies were just beginning to smell victory, only more time was needed.

     Kansas City was about 180 miles from my home in Iowa.  My grandmother on my Dad's side had a half brother, a dentist, living in town and practicing from his house office not too far from where I was stationed.  He came and picked me up one Sunday and took me to his home where I became a Sunday patient.  As far as he was concerned, no Army Dentist could ever do what he could do, so I got the works. Little did I know that he was one of the top dental  surgeons of the city and was highly respected in his profession.  I had seen him one time before as a very small child when he was driven by his Filipino chauffeur into my Dad's yard on the farm.  I found out much later that he was in a Stutz Bearcat car, all I could remember was the color--bright yellow with lots of chrome.  I always figured he was a real dandy and so far above us socially that we'd never meet again.  Another lesson learned.

      CTD had been a good experience both from a military and social standpoint, as usual all good things have to come to an end.  In three months we had been under the gun and had put more useful knowledge in our heads than we thought possible.  We were also becoming a lot more mature and true soldiers despite our young ages. (The oldest man was just 22 and that wasn't me.) Infrequent letters from home advised me that Mom wasn't getting any better and constant bedside care was necessary.  This news didn't help me any, but here I was for the duration and others had withstood losses too.  There wasn't much I could do even if I were able to go home.

      It was a two day troop train trip to San Antonio, Texas, where the dreaded Classification Center was located on the west side of Kelly Field  The trip was perforated with other troop train movements which meant we were on railroad sidings a lot of the time.  The passenger cars were old but as clean as could be expected with coal fired steam engines pulling us around.  Air conditioning had not come to these cars and windows were kept open except for the times when a direct headwind blew the smoke--you know where.  Sleeping was a catch is as catch can proposition and to be had only in spurts.  Arrival at the big station at San Antonio could never be forgotten because it was 7 December, 1943. 

      Our troop train car was parked about as far from the station as could be possible and it was cold!  Ice was all over everything, a 'norther' had blasted in from somewhere else and had dropped the temperature to eleven degrees above zero, unheard of in that town.  All our gear was in a duffel bag we had been issued and no one was going to carry it to the station but the owner, so away we trudged.  Our OD overcoats felt good that day after having much milder weather in the days before, I have been in much colder places but it  didn't penetrate like that day.

      Army busses carried us to the Center, right through the poorest section of southwest San Antonio so the first impression of the city was not so good.  The Center housing had been built on the plan of  WWII barracks buildings all over , adequate with no frills. Row upon row of the buildings comprised the Center because a lot of hopeful future aircrewmen from all of the Midwest CTDs were already there. They were two storied with 100 men on each floor, open bayed with showers and toilets at one end. Privacy was a thing of the past 

     Each man had his own space consisting of a footlocker, closet and cot which was the norm of the day. A room on the first floor housed the Charge Of Quarters (CQ), an extra duty for  some upperclassman .  He was to make sure that the barracks and surrounding areas were as clean as any plate you have ever eaten from and daily inspections at a given time proved his mettle.  If any communication for his barracks came from the orderly room the CQ was the responsible guy to let us know.  The outdoor bulletin board was still used, just as it had been in basic training.

      White glove inspections were learned in CTD but these at the Center were of the extreme variety. A speck of dust on anything was not tolerated, shoes had to be lined up under the bed in a certain order and shined and tied just so, uniforms had to be hung in the closet in a certain order and spaced just right or the culprit received a 'gig'. A given number of gigs meant  walking an hour tour, at attention,  for each gig awarded.  The tour area was always full of walkers but I was never one of them.

      I know now why they were hard on us. Details were the order of the day, nothing in a future cockpit could be overlooked.  I am a firm believer that attention to detail training started here whether we made the grade or not as the US was losing airplanes and crews by the squadron.  I can understand now that there was no place in an airplane where a crew member could be weak in any respect. Is it any wonder that a college degree had been one of the requirements prior to the Aviation Cadet Program's existence? 

     For the first few weeks at the Center, we were put through every test known to man.  Every aspect of the physical human was looked at by the flight surgeons.  We were subjected to psychomotor tests, interviews by psychlogists and the physical training was not forgotten either. For instance, psychomotor tests were of the type to see if you could draw a circle with your finger one way, and rub your belly the opposite direction at the same time.  A machine that did practically the same thing was used to test reflexes and resistances all leading to the day that you were 'classified' or thrown out of the program.  They needed aircrew members but they could still afford to be very selective.

      The day came when the results of the Classification were posted on the proverbial outdoor bulletin board. No group of people were more interested in what they read because that was the 'word' from the powers that be.  There were those that did not get their de-sired slot and a lot of them were cadets that I had been with in CTD.  They took their knocks and took their assignments in stride like the rest of us.  I was one of the lucky ones that made a pilot slot and I was assigned to the graduating class of 44-H  I still think there was a guardian angel that had more plans for me than I knew about.  There was so much yet to learn that had little to do with actual aircraft operation right there at the Preflight School.  Hours and hours were spent learning the Morse Code  and Aircraft Identification, both enemy and friendly, and other pertinent subjects necessary to be an Army Air Corps pilot.  I remembered my encounter with my first Air Corps crew and airplane at the Omaha airport and had only previously dreamed of being one of 'them'.

      I wondered a lot if I could make the grade further, the dream was shattered when the Red Cross of the base told me that my Mother was on her death bed.  The date was the ninth of March, 1944, I was in the middle of the training period but I had to get home to see Mom.

     The Dakota airplane, or the C-47 as we knew it,  was still the airliner of the day. By the time everything was in order for me to get home by this method, most of two days had passed. Communications were not what they are today and I got to the hospital about twenty minute before Mom passed away.  It was a shock to see her emaciated body for she weighed all of 85 pounds when she died. I remembered her as being the indomitable farm wife as described before. 

      The words she whispered to me just before her final breath will never be forgotten," I knew you'd come ".  I had been in intensive training of some sort just short of a year and her passing left me as an empty shell.  The date of her death was March 11th, 1944. Her funeral was held in the Methodist Church of Shenandoah and I don't think there was an unoccupied seat in the sanctuary. She now lies in the Rose Hill cemetery of my home town.

     The Air Corps had told me to take my thirty days of leave and that they would reinstate me in class 44-J.  I soon found out why they insisted that I take the leave because it takes at least that long to get used to not having Mom around.  Dad was still not doing too well,either, but at the end of the time allotted, I was back in the Pre-Flight section of SAACC.  Class 44-J had not been selected yet and it would be two more weeks before I could get back in the saddle. I had to start again with a new class. In the meantime I could go to any class I wanted, as long as I kept busy.  The Morse code given in groups of five letters went from seven a minute to twenty three, the aircraft recognition rate increased in a like manner so I sailed through when the class rolled around. 

      I had been bunked with another cadet from St. Paul, Minnesota, upon my return from Mom's passing.  His name of all things was Myles Standish, and yes he was a descendant of the Myles Standish of historical fame.  In addition he was an amateur radio enthusiast like his father.  Morse Code to him was like a song and he could send or copy code like a pro.  We became good friends and his help in the code field is not to be forgotten.  Myles had also been classified as a pilot trainee and we were to be together until the end of Pre-Flight where we were divided up not only for the type of aircraft we were to train for, that is, single or multi engine, (fighters or bombers), but for the field where our flying training was to continue.

    Even though we were both small statured and each of us got single engine fields, at the end of Pre-Flight each of us went our separate ways.  One gets used to partings like this in the military with the idea that there is always a next time and other bases to renew acquaintances.  I didn't get to see Myles again until 1973, after he had been medically retired from the now Air Force with Lou Gehrig's disease, at his home in St. Paul.   He passed away shortly after my visit.  The time interval had been some 29 years but that didn't seem to make any difference, we just took up where we left off.